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Alexis v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

May 17, 2005

JEANNE MARIE ALEXIS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE MOTHER AND NATURAL GUARDIAN OF JAMESON ALEXIS, GUETCHINA ALEXIS, JOSHUA ALEXIS, JOELWONSON ALEXIS, JOEMIAN ALEXIS, AND GUETDINA ALEXIS, MINORS, APPELLANT,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, RESPONDENT.



Hennepin County District Court File No. CT 03-9554.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. Whether an accident arises out of the maintenance or use of an automobile is a legal question and, accordingly, a district court's determination on this issue is subject to de novo review.

2. The burden of proof lies with the party claiming benefits under the No-Fault Automobile Insurance Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 65B.41-.71 (2004), to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the insured is eligible for benefits.

3. Where the insured was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning, lying in the back seat of his automobile, which was parked in the closed garage with the keys in the ignition, the insured was not using his automobile for transportation purposes at the time of the accident.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hudson, Judge

Affirmed

Schumacher, Judge, concurring specially

Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Schumacher, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.

OPINION

Decedent Joseph Alexis and his wife's cousin, Henriquez Saintias, were found dead in decedent's Chevrolet Suburban, which was parked in the garage attached to decedent's house. It was later determined that both men died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by exhaust from the Suburban. Other members of decedent's family, who were in the house at the time, were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. Decedent's survivors sought benefits under their no-fault automobile insurance policy. After a bench trial on stipulated facts, the district court ruled that the death and injuries did not arise out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle within the meaning of the No-Fault Automobile Insurance Act; therefore, decedent's survivors were not entitled to benefits. We affirm.

FACTS

At approximately 8:00 a.m. on September 29, 2001, appellant Jeanne Marie Alexis called 911 to report that her 8-year-old daughter was having trouble breathing. When the fire department and paramedics arrived, they asked appellant if she had a way to get to the hospital and if there was someone who could watch the other children in the house. Appellant responded that her husband was sleeping in the garage. When firefighters entered the garage, they found decedent and appellant's cousin, Saintias, unconscious in the family's 1993 Chevrolet Suburban. Both men later died. The subsequent police investigation concluded that they died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by exhaust from the Suburban.

On February 26, 2003, appellant filed suit against respondent State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, seeking economic-loss benefits and funeral expenses under the decedent's no-fault automobile insurance policy. Respondent asserted that the injuries to the decedent and his family did not arise out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle and, thus, coverage was denied. On May 26, 2004, the parties waived their right to a jury trial on the issue of coverage and stipulated that the first two prongs of the three-factor test set forth in Continental Western Insurance Co. v. Klug, 415 N.W.2d 876 (Minn. 1987) had been met.*fn1 The third prong of the Klug test--whether the vehicle was being used for transportation purposes at the time of the injury--was disputed. The parties, however, agreed to submit stipulated facts on which the district court was to rely in determining whether the third prong of the Klug test was satisfied.

Specifically, the parties stipulated to the following relevant facts:

‚óŹ Decedent's family owned three cars: (1) a 1993 Chevrolet Suburban, (2) a 1998 Dodge Caravan, and (3) a 1989 Honda Accord. All three ...


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